COVID-19 outbreak plan

Read about how we'll respond to positive COVID-19 cases at ARU.

Summary

This plan summarises the University’s response in the event of confirmed COVID-19 cases at ARU. Actions in this plan are not exhaustive and provide high level guidance only. The plan is supported by detailed operational resilience plans and protocols.

Our plan has been tested in desktop, scenario-based exercises involving the local authority Public Health Teams and is proactively and continuously reviewed. The Directors of Public Health in both Essex and Cambridgeshire have agreed our outbreak plan and we have shared it with the Department for Education.

It is important to note that our plan is subject to change, sometimes at short notice, in response to new advice and guidance being received from the UK Government and Public Health England (PHE).

National lockdown and educational restriction tiers

The Prime Minister announced that new national restrictions will come into effect from Thursday 5 November, subject to a vote in parliament.

The Government is asking universities to remain open, and education is clearly identified in the guidance as a valid reason for travel – for staff and students. We will be keeping our campuses open and will ensure that our vital work across education and research continues.

We, like the rest of the sector, have taken all possible steps to ensure that our campuses are COVID-secure, and we currently have low levels of COVID-positive test results in our community. We will continue to monitor this very closely, in constant liaison with our local public health leads.

We know that in some instances, educational restriction tiers to university provision may be implemented in a phased manner with the key aim to retain face-to-face provision where it is safe to do so. The safety of our staff, students, visitors, and local communities is fundamental to the ARU mission and we have identified the different modes of operation based on levels of identified risk and required alertness. Our model sets out the university protocol for operation in the context of COVID-19. The different tiers of operational function enable the university to move safely and confidently through different alert levels relating to the pandemic. 
The decision to move through the levels, to different tiers of operation, will be taken by the University Executive team on advice from the C19 Agile Action Group and in conjunction with public health officials. We will carefully consider the incidence rate, geographical spread, and evidence of linkages between cases to help inform this decision taking on board prevalence of cases in the wider community as well as reports of non-compliance.

For now, we remain at Tier 1 (default) with active blended learning across all disciplines and are maintaining a state of readiness to move to Tier 2. Faculties will be ready to advise students on how their course is affected should our restriction level change. We will prioritise support services to students which are essential to successfully complete their learning objectives.

Throughout all tiers ARU-funded research and innovation activities will be prioritised alongside part- or fully externally funded R&I which needs access to kit, and specialist resources. This includes services to NHS, COVID-19 related research and peri-Covid research and innovation recovery work with external agencies. At the highest level of alert, we will maintain research activities that include services to NHS and COVID-19 related research where there is a specific requirement for access to kit and specialist resources on campus.

Prevention

Our focus is on providing a COVID-19 secure working environment for those returning to campus and continuing to empower and support staff to work effectively and flexibly from home.

We have supported our staff and students to understand national guidance and observe the mitigations we have implemented to reduce the risk of virus transmission. The primary actions are maintaining social distancing as well as good hand and surface hygiene.

Read a summary of the COVID-19 secure measures we have implemented.

One of the corner stones of our safe environment is requiring anyone with COVID-19 related symptoms to remain at home, whether that is in private or University owned and managed accommodation.

We also ask students and staff to order a free test online by visiting https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test, and to let us know the test result as soon as they receive it.

An NHS COVID testing site will be opening in Sawyers car park, on our Chelmsford campus, in October. It is operated by the NHS and can offer a test to people who have booked one; this may include University students and staff. A number of NHS test sites also operate around Cambridge and Peterborough.

We have also laid out our expectations of staff, student and visitor safe behaviour online and within our community pledge.

Incident response

We recognise that even with these measures in place there will be cases of COVID-19 in our community. We have simple, effective mechanisms for staff and students to report both self-isolation as well as positive cases.

If someone becomes unwell, we have developed an internal protocol to manage this effectively. It establishes notification mechanisms, contact identification and the necessary communications in addition to allocating responsibilities to give a timely and appropriate response.

Our protocol is outlined below and recognises action for isolated cases as well as consideration of outbreaks.

Outbreak protocol

A dedicated MyHealth team, working on a rota including out of hours (8am-8pm) seven days a week, provides support and coverage for the University in relation to COVID-19 related matters. Our service standard is ‘same day’ and quicker wherever possible with immediate actions taken on positive cases.

In the event a positive test result for COVID-19 is reported the following steps will be taken in addition to the prescribed cleaning arrangements.

1. Initial data collection

Details of the individual including date of symptoms and positive test result as well as the date and their activities when last on campus are compiled.

This is shared with public health officials using a secure online portal and an outline of the case sent to the Health Protection Teams.

2. Contact tracing

We will work rapidly to identify those who have been in contact with the confirmed case. This will be achieved through our systems or from dialog with the notifying person.

For the purposes of contact tracing and isolation ‘close contact’ means having face-to-face contact with someone less than a metre away (even if a face-covering or face-mask is worn) or being within two metres of an infected person for 15 minutes or more.

Personal details including address and telephone number are available within our student record and HR systems and a new report using tap and timetable data has been developed to identify both staff and students who were present in a classroom or library setting over a defined period. In some teaching environments registers may also be held and will support contact tracing.

Students have been reminded of the importance of informing us of any absence or illness.

More details about how we use your personal data for COVID-19 management can be found in our privacy notice.

3. Communication

We will write to everyone who has been in the same teaching, work or halls of residence environment as the positive case offering reassurance and guidance.

In many cases the threshold to require self-isolation will not be met as members of staff and students maintain two-metre social distancing. In addition, and whilst not recognised by the NHS for the purpose of contact tracing, the use of visors (for staff) and face coverings further reduces the risk of transmission.

Anybody who does need to self-isolate will be contacted and asked to do so. Both practical and wellbeing support will be offered to them and any other ARU student they may live with.

Escalation

If we identify two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students or staff who are direct close contacts, proximity contacts or in the same cohort in the University or halls of residence within 14 days – this is defined as an outbreak.

This would be reported to public health officials and in liaison with the University senior management and public health officials, a risk assessment of the outbreak may indicate that tiered education restrictions need to be implemented and/or self-isolation of one or more halls of residence.

Both operational resilience plans and accommodation support plans are in place to support this. Find out more about how the tiered restrictions apply at ARU.

Please be aware that if it is agreed that halls need to be put into self-isolation this would happen at very short notice. See full details of how we will support students.